Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reflections on Muslim Youth

This past weekend I was a counselor at this Muslim youth conference held by members from the various Michigan youth groups. Imagine a weekend filled with lectures, workshops, and bonding activities with 250 Muslim youth ranging from age 12-19 and more than 30 counselors! It was quite a sight…especially when everyone was entering and leaving the Hyatt every morning and night. We had heads turning like fans on high speed. Okay maybe not on high speed…but you get the point.

Anyhow, usually I’m usually not a huge fan of these conferences only because they are really mediocre and plain content-wise. The topics discussed are predictable no matter what the theme.

• Renewing intentions
• Struggling for God’s Cause
• Having good character
• Restraining from Sinning
• Repentance
• Humility
• Treating parents with respect
• Patience
• And of course…the infamous “Gender Relations” workshop where everyone gets to pour their little hearts out about how hard it is to stay away the temptation of the opposite gender.

Actually, the conference is really cool when you look at the topics in retrospect because it addresses the struggles of the Muslim youth here in West. One of my favorite topics to study is the struggles or challenges facing Muslim youth in the West…because everyone is having the same issue: how do I maintain my Islamic and American identity as one?

To some people it seems really difficult, like the two are almost impossible to converge. But that’s wrong. Just look at me and CA…we’re always talking about how American we are. Probably because we’re not boaters. =D

No, but really. What does it mean to be a Muslim youth? And what does it mean to be an American? To be Muslim in laymen terms is to submit completely to God to earn His Pleasure and to ultimately enter Paradise if we successfully fulfill our purpose of worshiping only Him. Personally, I think it’s such a simple concept. God has created this universe and everything in it and we must worship Him because no one else can have the status that He does as the Creator and Originator of everything. To be American in laymen terms is to have the freedom to do what you aspire to accomplish and reach in your life.

What if I aspire to be an awesome Muslim citizen in the US? I’m fulfilling both ‘identities,’ right? Exactly.

So where does the problem come in? Pop culture, at least I think so. Pop culture is actually not something unique to us Americans. You’ll find it everywhere you go, even Muslim countries. The issue here about whether you believe following pop culture is part of your American-ness. I personally don’t think it is. I don’t listen to the latest jams about lust and desire, or watch movies filled with sexual content, or fall into consumerism, buying every new Abercrombie tee or Hollister jeans. I don’t swear, or rebel against my parents thinking its civil disobedience, or sneak out of the house at 12 am to go to a party filled with drugs and alcohol. I don’t have a boyfriend, play beer pong, or go to the mall all the time with my friends as a pastime. Does abstaining from these so-called ‘funs’* make me less American than my birth certificate claims I am?


Because I choose to uphold my Islamic values and I’m proud to say that I have the American freedom to do so. Thus I can confidently say that I’m a Muslim American without any contradictions.

So what does all this have to do with the kids at the conference I was at? This conference was trying to teach these kids (boys and girls) that you can be you and you can be American and you can be Muslim at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive. Because if you think about it, who will your peers respect more? The religious kid who is nice to everyone or the kid who is a slave to pop culture and is cocky about it?

Okay I have so many other reflections from the conference….things I learned from my 15 year old girls over the course of the weekend. But this post is getting too long...so maybe another day.

*Pop culture totally limits and constricts our image of “fun.” Pop culture tells us that going to the movies every weekend is fun. You know what’s funner (and way cheaper)? Playing Apple-to-Apples and drinking virgin mojitos with your girlfriends on a Friday night. =D Pop culture tells us romantic dates over candlelit dinners are fun. I think sitting out at night on my roof staring at the bright stars with a good friend is fun. Just ask CC.


fuelMybrain said...

Seems to me you've hit the nail on the head my dear friend! I do not envy current teens and the pop culture influences they are having to deal with. It sounds as if your conference was a great thing for these kids. Your 20s are very eye opening to how influenced we are in our impressionable years and how bad we failed to be "unique".

I'd love to hear about how the teens are coping w/gender relations... do post more!

Falling Up said...

I agree with you. Being American doesn't necessarily mean conforming to a standard. What happened to diversity, anyways?

Artistic Logic said...

explain "boater" since i think its a regional term and not everyone knows what it is

Lisa said...

Pop culture mainly destroys. I went into marriage with HUGE expectations of a Syrian man who I thought would be prepared to do the romantic dates.

I wish I had known or at least lowered my expectations.

And not to mention pop cultures expectations of size "0" and tons of alcohol. Glad you went to this conference. Love you!

Constructive Attitude said...

I think once a person is out of their teen years they come to all these conclusions about pop culture and conforming. but its obviously not what you do when ur a teen. or at least in my opinion. im glad i grew up out of all that crap and was like to heck with pop culture.

p.s. I think romantic dates with candlelit dinner are lameeeeeeeeeeeee.


Mrs. Cullen said...

yay MMYC=) you rock YW

Artistic Logic said...

candlelit dinners are cute. it has nothing to do with pop culture

FutureGirl said...

I think the part where we really do wrong to the youth is to not provide them with a means to have fun and enjoy themselves as an alternative to mainstream pop culture. I feel this way about most kids actually, the on muslim ones as well. We fail to provide children with wholesome entertainment and leave them open to the charms of negatively influencing entertainment. Adolecence is a period of life in which energy is so striong it needs and outlet.

In the UK, over the Xmas period, I found it really difficult to organise "good clean fun" for the 6teenagers I had with me over the holidays.

Where an they run? Where can they play? Where can they exert some energy?

We need alternatives: exciting alternatives - not just the less stimulating ones.

PerplxinTexan♥ said...

Hmmm...sounds alot like MMYC

....dun dun dun

PerplxinTexan♥ said...

P.S. If you know Linda you're now officially amazing. I knew we had people in common but, this is getting outta control.

P.P.S. MYNA PWNS everything else

P.P.P.S. It's a shame how much influence the people have on the world but, not how the world has on it's people. I know I sound like a total tree hugger but I feel like if we lived more by what God gives us and less by what we believe we've achieved life would be simpler. Ya know? I loved MMYC but, it's too clique and makes me feel inferior.

mary evelyn said...

this is such a great post, and a great message to kids and everyone really living in america.

america is the land of freedom of choice, but lately the media has had a stranglehold on all of us telling us what is acceptable and what isn't. what clothes you should wear, how you should look, what style you should style your hair. the media even tells us what lifestyles are acceptable and what aren't.

where did my freedom go?!

but the good thing is (because we're american) once we recognize what the media is doing to us, we can consciously break away and put more emphasis on what WE think WE should be wearing, who we should be dating, or how we should be living.

i think what you've written can apply to not only muslims, but to everyone in america struggling to find themselves in a culture where individuality is not encouraged.

nice, nice post.

provoking invoking said...

mary evelyn's comment, and the thought on america's freedom, reminded me of this quote from Howard Zinn:
"“If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.”

i think it's powerful, not just when talking about adolescence.

I don't have much else to add.. except that MMYC repeated changes my life whenever I go as counselor, even though I don't learn anything new.. it's just the experience itself and the emotions.. i wish i hadn't missed it!

also, i think we should do away with adolescence altogether. who invented that anyway? i want to live on a farm and teach my kids responsibility through taking care of animals and earth, :D.

and it's great to be american, or german or moroccan or greek or WHATEVER. but i don't see how being from here or there makes anyone better than someone born somewhere else. i think nationalism is a false pride that can be dangerous towards humanity working together and advancing. the values america was 'founded' on are great and highly inspired by islam (they say thomas jefferson was a secret muslim..) but that's all on paper. its a new world now, pretty soon globalization will make nationalism even more of an illusion, and i'm going off on a tangent that i hope no one will read cause it has nothing to do with youth in america, lol.. sorry for word-barfing all over your comment page, YW. <3

provoking invoking said...

oh, P.S.-- other howard zinn quotes to chew on: http://thinkexist.com/quotes/howard_zinn/

with that, i can't hold it in. it's too difficult for me to be "proud" to be american, for the small positive things that come with being an individual. the bad things, the collective, terrible atrocities committed by this government, are much too large for ME personally to set aside and ignore.

thus i find it unfair to tell muslim youth to learn to reconcile their Islam with their God-determined country-of-origin. and i'm aware the problems are deeper than what's on america's shoulders, but that doesn't mean i have to compromise a part of myself to feel "loyal" to this sorrowful country. when a nation steps on the rights of other nations and kills millions for profit, we should be talking about being united as people against these crimes. it's fine to be american (i'm american), but a distinction needs to be made between our morals and the things we should DISSENT from, lest we allow ourselves to be represented by criminals and sociopaths called the "government". that goes against worship.

Cheryl said...

Who has dinner by candle light? Sort of creepy if you ask me.. sort of like a seance. I totally don't want to meet any dead people during dinner.

Youthful Wisdom said...

fuelMybrain-I'll write more about gender relations soon!
Falling Up- It's funny you mention diversity. A lot of times kids try to be different by having their own style but the style they end up taking is just something they see in the media or something so artist was wearing.
AL- "boater" is a slang term for "fresh off the boat" aka "FOB" ... it is used for anyone who wasn't born in this country and acts kind of funny.
Lisa- seriously size 0 is throwing everyone off. Did you know the average American woman is 160 lbs? And we wonder why everyone is crazy about dieting.
CA- what's sad is that sometimes people are still in the 20's or above and still fall into pop culture or at least consumerism.
Mrs. Cullens- thanks! You shoulda been there!
Futuregirl- I agree completely. If the youth don't have alternatives then they'll always turn back to unacceptable ones. Back in my middle school years my friends and I used to alwaaays go laser tagging or glo golfing or go-karting :)
Perplxin- yep its MMYC and yep I know Linda too. Wow this is freaky.
Mary- thanks! I agree totally. Someone needs to come up with a movie or documentary called, "Hey! Who hijacked my Freedom?!?"

Youthful Wisdom said...

PI- you brought up a lot of good issues. I don't think agree with nationalism either actually...it separates the global community more than bringing it together. At the same time however, psychologically the youth need to be able to reconcile their identity with those who are surrounded them. When they're able to reconcile those differences then finally people will be able to be comfortable with themselves. Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with loving you country or where you're from to some extent. I mean the Prophet PBUH loved his home over any other place...because that's where he was from.
Psychologically, you're bound to have a connection or relationship with the place that you grew up or the place which you grew the most. It's just natural. For instance, I'm so happy that I was born and raised in the States because I truly believe that it made me a stronger Muslims. The struggles of fighting the norm made me who I am today. Had I been born in a Muslim country, I probably wouldn't have had those struggles and thus not have been as grateful for Islam as I am today. Allhu 'Alem (Allah knows).

On that note...I absolutely LOVE Zinn. He was one of my favorites in high school.

Cheryl- LOL

Constructive Attitude said...

i love howard zinn as well. hes awesome :)

provoking invoking said...

YW: i agree 100% =) and Alhamdulillah i am so grateful to be born here!
i just think a line needs to be drawn as well. that is, loving your land/people and what God has blessed you with, and living with good etiquette etc.. VS. being loyal to a government that commits crimes against God. it is clear in the qur'an in surah baqarah, maidah and elsewhere that we should not ally with our ummah's enemies. thats the only line that i want to draw (and think should be taught to the youth in accordance with qur'an and hadith).. thanks for the response!